PRESIDENT OBAMA will have plenty of sticky issues to deal with on his visit this week to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Turmoil in Syria, the fight against the Islamic State, the Iran nuclear deal, regional politics — all of these are important. But there’s another, equally important piece of business Mr. Obama should put on the agenda: He should urge Saudi King Salman to free imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi.
Mr. Badawi, 32, has been jailed since 2012 after he appealed online for a more liberal and secular society, a call that infuriated the kingdom’s conservative clerics and religious establishment. His sentence was set at 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. After he was flogged 50 times, the remainder have been held in abeyance, but the sentence stands and was upheld by the Saudi supreme court in June, and the whipping could be resumed at any time.
What was it that Mr. Badawi said? Shortly before his 2012 arrest, he wrote about the nature of liberalism. “For me,” he said, “liberalism simply means, live and let live.” But the clerics, he said, “controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth,” have discredited it. “They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.” Mr. Badawi was honored with the 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament.
Ensaf Haidar, Mr. Badawi’s wife, who accepted the prize for him in December, was in Washington recently and told us, “Raif is not a criminal, not a terrorist. He is a peaceful man who expressed his opinion” and believes it was his natural right to do so. Ms. Haidar, who now lives in Canada with their three young children, pressed State Department and White House officials for an appeal by the president on her husband’s behalf. She told us she hopes that King Salman, who took office in January 2015, after Mr. Badawi was incarcerated, might be persuaded to release him, and she suggested his influential son, Mohammed bin Salman, is open-minded and could be an important factor in winning freedom for Mr. Badawi.
Mr. Obama ought to tell the unvarnished truth to the monarch: Bloggers may be sharp-tongued, but it is barbaric to subject them to flogging and jail.